Alex Richard Underwood, proprietor of the old Central Hotel in Monterey, now operated as the Underwood Hotel, and one of the best known men in western California, is a native son of California and has been a resident of this state all his life, a continuous resident of Monterey for the past quarter of a century.
He was born on the great Chupinos ranch, then owned by his father, in the vicinity of Monterey, February 7, 1862, and is a son of Charles and Catherine (Armstrong) Underwood, the latter of whom was a native of Ireland, and they were married in California in 1856. Mrs. Underwood, one of California’s stanch pioneer mothers, died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Margaret J. Brown, in San Francisco, in June, 1911
The late Charles Underwood, founder of the Central Hotel in Monterey and formerly and for many years largely engaged in ranching and in the Hereford breeding industry in Monterey county, was a native of Schoharie county, in the beautiful valley of the Mohawk in New York state, born in 1828, and in the early ’50s of the past century he left the sea, which he had been following as a sailor “before the mast”, and became a resident of California, where he spent the remainder of his life, for years one of the leading factors in the development of Monterey county, as is set out elsewhere in this work, together with a personal and informative biography of that interesting figure in the early life of Monterey and vicinity. Of the children born to him and his wife two are living : Alex Richard; and Mrs. Margaret J. Brown, now living in San Francisco, who still has considerable property interests in Monterey. Mrs. Brown has two sons, Waldo E. and Charles M. Brown, who are well known to the golf fraternity.
The ranch on which Alex Richard Underwood was born then was a part of the old Spanish grant Tulocitos and is now known as the Chupinos ranch, eighteen miles southeast of Monterey, on what may be regarded as the headwaters of the Carmel river, and he was the first white child born in what is now Monterey county outside the Monterey settlement. His father was a half owner of the great Chupinos ranch and Alex Richard Underwood was reared there, taking an active part in the development of the place and remaining there until he was nearly thirty years of age. Charles Underwood had come into the Monterey country in the late ’50s and was thereafter until his death one of the active factors in the development of this county. In that connection, there is a mighty good story, for Charles Underwood’s vigorous action in asserting his right to his lands as opposed to the claims set up by interests representing claimants under the old Spanish land grants, led to that long train of lawsuits which eventually established the system of land distribution adopted by the United States government under its preemption and homestead laws and broke up forever the visionary pretensions held by those claiming under the old Spanish grants, and fixing forever in this state the rights of those holding under the American system.
When Charles Underwood came into the Monterey country he engaged in sheep raising on what then was a practically open range, for the vast domain hereabout now covered by prosperous ranches was then almost wholly unsettled and was under practically no agricultural cultivation. This open range offered exceptionally fine grazing opportunities and Mr. Underwood’s flocks waxed and replenished until at the height of his operations along that line he was the owner of no fewer than twelve thousand sheep and his operations gave employment to many persons on the ranch. It was when his flocks began to multiply that Charles Underwood began to reach out for additional grazing lands and it was then that the trouble began. While thus questing he entered upon the lands then occupied by one Miguel Allen, under the terms of the old Corral de Tierra Spanish. land grant and it was in the resultant dispute over the occupancy of these lands that the historic lawsuits above mentioned arose and the rights of the American claimants were effectually and for all time established. Incidentally and as a matter of interesting information for the present generation, Alex Richard Underwood, then but a lad, was the almost constant companion of his father on the latter’s rides over the country and he has a very vivid recollection of the stirring incidents that arose in connection with the situation thus developed, and when in a reminiscent mood bias some good stories to tell in that relation.
It was in 1865 that Charles Underwood effected an arrangement with Miguel Allen whereby the latter agreed to the Underwood occupancy of this land for grazing and for the erection of shearing sheds and such other purposes as might be necessary in the operations of the pioneer sheep man. In extending his operations Mr. Underwood had located a half dozen or more camps on these lands, each camp carrying from one thousand to two thousand sheep, both old and young, and segregated accordingly. When the shearing season came on he was approached by one William Laporte, at that time occupying what now is known as the Calera ranch and who demanded the immediate termination of the Underwood operations on these lands, Laporte claiming proprietary rights in the domain under the terms of the old Spanish grants. Laporte was accompanied by several renters to whom he had given grazing rights for dairy purposes and his demands were made in peremptory terms. Mr. Underwood was a bit surprised, as he was peacefully pursuing his operations under the Allen concession, and he firmly but courteously and after the manner of the best California tradition gave Laporte to understand that his demand was ridiculous and would not be heeded. Laporte angrily gave Underwood a time limit of twenty-four hours in which to move his herds and herdsmen, notwithstanding the fact that shearing then was going on. By this time Mr. Underwood’s courtesy had begun to be pretty severely taxed and in equally certain terms he told Laporte to return at the end of the year and he would still find the Underwood operations going on, and as he had a superior force—behind him the Spanish claimant was forced to withdraw discomfited.
At the end of the shearing Mr. Underwood took the stage for San Francisco to market his clip and while there sought the legal advice of that sterling old law firm of Mullen & Hyde, a firm that was in possession of all the facts pertaining to the Spanish land grants, and he was there informed that there was no legal basis to these Spanish claims, and that any such pretensions as that advanced by the man Laporte had no standing whatever. By this law firm Mr. Underwood was advised immediately to take advantage of the homestead and preemption rights in open lands accorded under the laws of the United States and also to take such advantage as might be possible through the purchase of school and railroad lands in the disputed territory and under the terms of the recent survey made in behalf of those sections of the public domain. Following this good advice Mr. Underwood filed a preemption right on one of the quarter sections in question and his boon companion and comrade of years standing, Alex Matthews, filed on an adjacent quarter. Under the homestead law they then secured themselves in possession of the other half of the disputed section.
When final proof of these homestead rights was filed the contest was opened and the long-drawn-out litigation began, a contest that was carried through the courts and through the general land office, engaging the attention of the United States department of the interior during both the Grant and the Hayes administrations. During this long period of unsettled conditions with respect to his titles Mr. Underwood made three trips to Washington and as a sort of general representative of many other settlers who were facing similar disputes, rendered a service in behalf of the general public that fixes his name indelibly in the annals of California, for, as noted above, this contest which he so vigorously carried on ultimately resulted in the irrevocable establishment of the rights of the homesteaders. Meanwhile, the sturdy pioneer was continuing his operations on his great sheep ranch and was locating settlers on his lands, placing them in charge of his various flocks, and in this way was doing much to advance the development of the region in which he had located, and was thus engaged until 1873, when he closed out his sheep interests to advantage and became engaged in the lumber business in Monterey. His title to his lands was affirmed in 1876 and the patents in the next year were signed by Rutherford B. Hayes, president of the United States.
It now is doubly interesting to recall that during the time of this long-drawn-out contest Mr. Underwood’s life frequently was threatened and on several distinct occasions attempts were made by apparent hireling assassins to put him out of the way, but he managed to circumvent his enemies on every turn. One of the weapons of the other side was a resort to the boycott to hamper his operations and he presently found himself unable to secure lumber in the existing lumber markets of this region. Several times offers were made to him to settle on a cash basis, these overtures beginning with an offer of five hundred dollars for his withdrawal from the contest. This of course was laughed at. These offers gradually were increased until the other side was offering money up in the thousands but Mr. Underwood spurned them all, stoutly declaring that there was too much then at stake and that the interests of too many persons by that time had become involved in the paramount right to peaceful possessions of their lands. When he found he could not get lumber in the open markets he bought the steam schooner Pioneer, plying the waters of the bay between Monterey and Santa Cruz, and bought lumber from the mills, landing the same at Monterey, where he opened a lumberyard, in which he sold lumber at a rate lower than that of his competitors, broke the boycott and enabled the settlers on Corral de Tierra to put up homes. In 1884 Charles Underwood retired from his farming operations and took over the old Central Hotel in Monterey, which he operated for several years thereafter or until his retirement in the early ’90s. His death occurred at the residence of his son Alex R. in Monterey in 1904.
The boyhood of Alex Richard Underwood was spent on his father’s ranch in the neighborhood of Monterey and his early education was received in the schools of that ambitiously struggling little city. When he was thirteen years of age (in 1875) his father sent him to the University of the Pacific at Santa Clara, a Methodist institution which later came to be known as the College of the Pacific and was moved to Stockton, where it now is being carried on. In the next year (1876) he entered the old Vinson Haller Business College, known as the San Jose Institute and Business College, and later went to San Francisco, where he was for a year in attendance at the Lincoln grammar school, in the following year returning to the home ranch to take part in its management and also to help in the care of his invalid sister, Mary, who died in that year. Mr. Underwood later took further studies in San Jose and presently entered the Garden City Commercial College, from which he was graduated in 1882. Two years later, in 1884, when his father retired from the ranch, he continued to carry on the operations of the place and was thus engaged until in the spring of 1891, when he retired from the farm on account of ill health. In the fall of that year he was married and for some time thereafter he and his wife made their home in San Francisco. In the meantime Mr. Underwood had been taking an active interest in the political affairs of the state, attending the conventions of his party, and had acquired a wide acquaintance in state political circles. Through this connection Mr. Underwood received an appointment, at the request of Governor Markham, to the commissary department of the newly established hospital for the insane at Agnew, under the administration and executive direction of the late Dr. Hatch, who Rater became the general superintendent of all the hospitals for the insane in California and who died in 1924.
Mr. Underwood continued his connection with the affairs of the hospital for the insane until his resignation on March 1, 1900, when he resigned that position in order to return to Monterey to take over from his father and mother the cares incident to the management of the old Cential Hotel, and he ever since has been engaged in the hotel business in that city. This hotel was established in 1868 and is said to be the oldest hotel in continuous operation in western California, south of Sacramento. In 1911 Mr. Underwood had the old hotel building torn down and on January 1, 1912, let the contract for the erection of a new steel and brick structure, which was erected along strictly modern lines at a cost of many thousands of dollars and which under the management of Mr. Underwood and his wife has since been very successfully doing business as the Underwood Hotel, this name for this popular hostelry having been adopted by Mr. Underwood in memory of the enterprise of his pioneer parents who are now sleeping in the little cemetery alongside the home they loved so well.
Mr. Underwood is a republican, as was his father, the latter for many years having been regarded as one of the leaders of that party in this section of the state, and he has ever taken a good citizen’s interest in local civic affairs. In 1908 he was-appointed foreman of the grand jury to support Superior Judge B. V. Sargeant and filled that position with wisdom and impartiality. Mr. Underwood has been a member of the Native Sons of the Golden West since 1885 and a member of the Masonic order since 1895, in which he has attained to the thirty-second degree in the Scottish Rite. He is a charter member of the local lodge of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and is also affiliated with the Order of Foresters. Through his efforts the grand council of the Improved Order of Red Men was brought to Monterey in 1908. Mr. Underwood has been a witness to and a participant in the amazing development that has taken place in and about Monterey since the days of his boyhood and he has many interesting tales to tell in that connection. In common with many of the native sons of his generation in California he had as a child his Indian “mammy” and he has always had the friendship and esteem of his old Indian neighbors.
It was on November 26, 1891, in Santa Clara county, that Alex R. Underwood was united in marriage to Miss Julie E. Carter, who has long been an active and influential factor in the management of the Underwood Hotel. Mrs. Underwood is a daughter of Rinaldo S. Carter, one of the pioneers of California, who was for years actively and successfully engaged in operations as a building contractor in Santa Clara county. For more than twenty years Mrs. Underwood has been the local correspondent at Monterey for the San Jose Mercury Herald and is widely known hereabout by reason of that connection. On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of her connection with newspaper work she and Mr. Underwood entertained at dinner in San Jose the executive heads and chiefs of staff of the Mercury Herald, on the evening of February 9, 1925, and the occasion was made one of much felicitation and congratulation. As the Mercury Herald pointed out in its felicitous account of the delightful social affair, the dinner “was given a triple significance by virtue of the fact that both Mr. Underwood and Mr. Johnston (managing-editor of the newspaper) have birthdays during the month, and each was the recipient of an appropriate token, together with the congratulations and well wishes of those present.”
“To the hostess, whose animation and radiant charm entirely belied the implication of the anniversary she was celebrating,” continued this newspaper account of the dinner, “the guests showed their affectionate esteem in a cluster of twenty deep-red roses, one for each year, signifying, in the words of Amanda M. Miller, who made the presentation, the love of the givers for Mrs. Underwood and the latter’s unswerving loyalty during her long period of faithful service. Mrs. Underwood’s response was characteristically gracious : ‘As I look into the depths of these beautiful flowers I seem to see the faces of my friends, each one reflecting a heart full of love, for without love there could be no such fellowship as I see there.’ Turning to Mr. Hays (one of the publishers of the newspaper) , she added : ‘And as a toast to the owner of the Mercury Herald, may you enjoy eternal prosperity.’ At the conclusion of the dinner, which was Lucullian in its quality and proportions, each successive course being a veritable triumph of the art de cuisine, several of those present delighted the company with reminiscences of their earlier associations, each, however, also taking occasion to pay a glowing tribute to the splendid qualities of the host and hostess.” Among the numerous messages of congratulation received by Mrs. Underwood in this connection was one of a warmly felicitous tone from United States Senator Samuel M. Shortridge of California.
Source: History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California’s history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1925.